Cue-induced cocaine seeking intensifies or incubates after withdrawal from extended access cocaine self-administration, a phenomenon termed incubation of cocaine craving. The expression of incubated craving is mediated by Ca²⁺-permeable AMPA receptors (CP-AMPARs) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Thus, CP-AMPARs are a potential target for therapeutic intervention, making it important to understand mechanisms that govern their accumulation. Here we used subcellular fractionation and biotinylation of NAc tissue to examine the abundance and distribution of AMPAR subunits, and GluA1 phosphorylation, in the incubation model. We also studied two transmembrane AMPA receptor regulatory proteins (TARPs), γ-2 and γ-4. Our results, together with earlier findings, suggest that some of the new CP-AMPARs are synaptic. These are probably associated with γ-2, but they are loosely tethered to the PSD. Levels of GluA1 phosphorylated at serine 845 (pS845 GluA1) were significantly increased in biotinylated tissue and in an extrasynaptic membrane-enriched fraction. These results suggest that increased synaptic levels of CP-AMPARs may result in part from an increase in pS845 GluA1 in extrasynaptic membranes, given that S845 phosphorylation primes GluA1-containing AMPARs for synaptic insertion and extrasynaptic AMPARs supply the synapse. Some of the new extrasynaptic CP-AMPARs are likely associated with γ-4, rather than γ-2. The maintenance of CP-AMPARs in NAc synapses during withdrawal is accompanied by activation of CaMKII and ERK2 but not CaMKI. Overall, AMPAR plasticity in the incubation model shares some features with better described forms of synaptic plasticity, although the timing of the phenomenon and the persistence of related neuroadaptations are significantly different.
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